Senator FIFIELD (Victoria-Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (13:31): The Not-for-profit Sector Freedom to Advocate Bill seeks to invalidate clauses in Commonwealth agreements with the not-for-profit sector that restrict or prevent not-for-profit entities from advocating on Commonwealth law, policy or actions. The coalition, in opposition, has frequently stated its belief that not-for-profit organisations should not be treated as agencies or instruments of government, and it is fitting that we speak on this bill during National Volunteer Week. It is important to pause and remember that there are over 600,000 not-for-profits in Australia. We have a robust civil society and our nation would not be the same without our volunteers or these not-for-profit organisations.
On this side of the chamber we share the view that the state should be doing all it can to assist these organisations to do what they do best, to get on with their core business. We start with the principle that the government should do no harm to the endeavours of the not-for-profit sector. The coalition does have a plan to enable the not-for-profit sector to spend more time focusing on their core activities and our plan places the state at the service of Australia’s civil society rather than the other way around. Our plan will cut red tape and support service providers; it will free up the regulatory burden that the not-for-profit sector currently has imposed on it.
We also have concerns about the large new regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. As I say, we want to help organisations focus on what they do best. We do recognise that there is a place for a national body to enhance the role of institutions in civil society but our view is that, rather than the current commission, there should be a small organisation that would act as an educative and training body-a centre of excellence for the sector. The coalition version of the organisation would seek to perform that role. It would also seek to act as a one-stop shop for information on charitable organisations and agencies operating in Australia, advocate for the rights of charities and not-for-profit agencies and represent the interests of those organisations to government. It would also undertake research and cross-sector evaluations of issues of concern to the sector and help to foster innovation.
It is important that the state be at the service of civil society. We should do no harm to their efforts. The government should be a facilitator but it should not intrude upon the operation of the not-for-profit sector. The coalition, for its part, wants to work with the sector and ensure that the well-intentioned activities of government do not work against it.